You’ve probably read dozens of articles that offer advice on how to “survive the holidays” when you’re trying to lose weight. Survive? What happened to experiencing the joy of the season, feeling merry and being happy? No one wants to just survive the holidays, like they’re a lagoon full of crocodiles. You want to enjoy them! By making just a few strategic preparations beforehand, you can experience a healthy and happy holiday.
Here are 10 simple ways to prepare for a healthy and happy holiday season:
1. Define “happy”.
What are your favorite things about the holidays? Make a list of what makes you happy during this special time of year. Gift-giving, gift-getting, bringing out the family heirloom table or tree decorations, writing cards, making holiday crafts, the annual neighborhood party or the delicious tastes of family meals: mom’s stuffing, Nana’s pizzelles, the buttery taste of Aunt Rose’s challah bread.
Chances are, one of your favorite things is the feeling of warmth and togetherness as the whole family draws together to enjoy each other. When you’re tempted to eat one extra holiday cookie or take another dip into the party punch, pull out your list. It will serve as a reminder that you have plenty of other ways to enjoy the holidays, so you won’t feel the least bit deprived.
2. Don’t skip meals.
Even if you know there’s a big feed on the agenda, don’t “save up” for it by skipping your healthy Nutrisystem meals. You don’t want to face temptation hungry.
3. Stock up on seltzer.
According to the National Health Service, alcoholic drinks may affect the brain chemicals that tell your appetite to call it a day. Researchers explain that despite consuming loads of calories in alcoholic beverages, you may end up eating more than when you are sober.
If you’d like to indulge in a glass of wine at the holiday party, fill your glass half or two-thirds of the way up with seltzer water before you add any alcohol. Bonus: Holding a glass of plain or mixed seltzer usually stops your host from trying to give you more!
Consider signing up to help at the local soup kitchen or pet shelter over the holidays. You’re not only helping others in need, you’re helping yourself. According to Mayo Clinic, studies have found that people who volunteer can beat depression and lower stress levels, both common risks over the holidays. It can also help with keeping you physically and mentally healthy. Bring the family with you and start a new, happy holiday tradition.
If you get stressed or depressed when the holidays roll around, turn on the music and get moving. You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out that it’s really hard to feel bad when you’re dancing. But science can prove it: A 2015 study, published in European Journal of Sport Science, compared the moods of recreational ballroom dancers and those who dance competitively. Researchers found that the less rigorous workout by amateurs resulted in less stress and more pleasure, even after the last notes were sounded. Even better: Dancing away the blues can burn up to 518 calories per hour (depending on the type of dance and speed), says the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. So, dance away the blues and stay happy this holiday season.
6. Plan a holiday hike… or two.
And bring as many family members along as you can! According to Healthline, walking provides a host of health benefits, such as burning calories, increasing energy and improving heart health, immunity and mood. Along with these perks, family walks also offer an interrupted time to connect with each other without distraction.
7. Keep your hands (and mind) busy.
If you relish the time you spend making holiday cookies, transfer your DIY yearnings to something that isn’t food. Many park departments, arboretums and garden clubs offer classes on how to make holiday wreaths and centerpieces, force bulbs or create fairy gardens. Learn to bead, knit and quilt at your local fabric store or art center to create homemade holiday gifts your family will love.
8. Take a moment—often.
It’s so easy to get carried away over the holidays—planning, prepping, shopping, buying, decorating, cooking, wrapping. Just the thought can make your blood pressure rise. Mindfulness—a meditative technique that helps you focus on the present moment (and not all the other moments you’re planning for)—may be your solution.
According to the magazine Today’s Dietitian, mindful practices have been shown to help develop better eating habits and a “higher well-being in daily life.” Think of it as putting yourself on pause, during which you pay close attention to what you’re feeling and sensing in the moment, without making any judgments. It can help you calm down, sidestep a craving and remind yourself of your ultimate goals, leading to better choices.
9. Relax anywhere.
Become instantly calm with simple, deep breathing techniques, no matter what’s going on around you. According to Medical News Today, a specific breathing technique called “4-7-8” may help decrease stress, improve sleep and control cravings. It involves breathing in quietly through your nose for four seconds, holding for seven seconds, then exhaling for eight seconds, making a soft whoosh sound (repeat up to four times). Just make sure to speak with your doctor before adding this practice to your routine to ensure this is the right technique for you.
10. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness.
You planned ahead to do the right thing and stick to your diet program. However, holiday treats still tempt you and a few sneak onto your plate. Don’t beat yourself up. Shame may lead you to give up and derail your diet permanently. Cut yourself a break. Everyone has a bad day, but it doesn’t have to lead to a bad life. Forgive yourself and hop right back on the diet train at your very next meal.